Healing by the Stars
The Grave-stone, heavy with grief, says:—'Earth availed not to save my dead.
Watchers of the sick, look up now to the over-regarding stars.'
Royal Society of Medicine Dinner: November 15, 1928
WHEN FELLOW-GUESTS—1 don't know how it is with you, but, when a medical man approaches me in the language of compliment, I am filled with an uneasy suspicion that somebody's tobacco is going to be rationed. That possibility, however, is behind us for this evening, so we can the better appreciate Colonel MacArthur's flattering diagnosis of our several virtues and merits. Some of us must have all of the symptoms indicated. I have one. I am a story-teller.
Lord Dawson, Members of the Royal Society of Medicine, gentlemen, and ladies, will you lend me your patience while I tell a perfectly true story?
Nearly 300 years ago there was an astrologer-physician, called Nicholas Culpeper, practising in Spitalfields. And it happened that a friend's maid-servant fell sick with what the local practitioner diagnosed as plague. Culpeper was called in as a second opinion. When he arrived the family were packing up the beds, preparatory to going away and leaving the girl to die. He took charge. There was no silly nonsense about looking for the characteristic plague tongue. He only asked at what hour the young woman had taken to her bed. That gave him, as I need not tell you, 'the hour of the decumbiture.' He then erected a horoscope, and 'inquired of the face of the Heavens how the malady might prove.' The face of the heavens indicated it was not plague but just smallpox, which our ancestors treated almost as lightly as we do. And smallpox it turned out to be. So the family came back with their bedding, and lived happily ever after; the girl recovered; and Culpeper said what he thought of his misguided fellow-practitioner. Among other things, he called him 'a man of forlorn fortunes with sore eyes.'
Preposterous as all this was, you must remember that Culpeper justified his practice by the theory that `this creation, though composed of contraries, is one united body, of which man is the epitome, and that he, therefore, who would understand the mystery of healing must look as high as the stars.'
That was a distorted shadow of the ancient idea that the universe is one in ultimate essence—which essence is sustained and embraced and interpenetrated by a creative motion or inner heat—the pneuma of certain Greek physicians, who practised 500 years before St. Paul, preached at Athens. It was a noble belief, but it did not prevent Dr. Culpeper from using a pharmacopoeia and treatment that would have made a West African witch-doctor jealous. And when he came across anything that he did not understand, or that Aristotle had not provided for, he put it down to 'influences' or `emanations'—same as you do a common cold.
But if he could return to earth to-day and see how things have progressed in the mystery of healing, I fancy he would be quite at ease in your Zion. He believed in the transmutation of metals. He could be shown that in full blast at a Royal Society soirée—with emanations. He would find that the essential unity of creation is admitted as far forth as we have plumbed infinity; and that Man, Culpeper's epitome of all, is in himself a universe of universes, each universe ordered—negatively and positively, by sympathy and antipathy—on the same lines as hold the stars in their courses.